Brandon Tsay initially froze when a gunman pointed a firearm at him, he said. He was sure that these would be his last moments.
But then something happened to Tsay, who was working the ticket counter in the lobby of her family’s Lai Lai Ballroom & Studio, a ballroom in Alhambra, California.
He lunged at the gunman and struggled to get hit multiple times so he could get the gun from him, he told CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Monday night.
The gunman had already killed 11 people and wounded 10 others before reaching Tsay’s workplace.
Tsay’s courage saved his life that day, but it probably saved many more as well, said Ronald Tunkel, a former special agent with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives who trained as a criminal profiler.
While Tsay’s actions show heroism and bravery, what she did is more possible than people realize, said Dr. Ragy Girgis, an associate professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University in New York City.
“People have a great capacity to respond to tragedies like these. People wouldn’t realize how heroically they could respond,” she said.
Fortunately, most people won’t find themselves in a situation where they have to respond to a mass shooter, Girgis said. But incidents like these are all too common and on the rise in the US, according to the Gun Violence Archive.
There isn’t much research on civilian involvement in mass shootings, Girgis said.
Still, as the US sees mass shootings on a regular basis, businesses, nonprofits and schools are training people on how to respond. Tunkel and Jon Pascal, an instructor for both Krav Maga Worldwide and the Force Training Institute, say they are seeing more training and protocols around active fire situations for everyday people.
A word of warning: If your safety awareness begins to contribute to anxiety or interfere with life in significant ways, it may be time to see a mental health expert, said psychiatrist Dr. Keith Stowell, medical director of behavioral health and addictions. for Rutgers Health and RWJ Barnabas Health.
Tunkel said that being able to respond effectively to emergency situations requires two things: awareness and preparation.
Create “a safety habit,” Pascal recommended. That means people must routinely take note of the mood of the crowds they are in, the exits and entrances, and what tools are available around them should they need to respond to a frightening event.
“We don’t want to be paranoid and not live our lives, but I think if we make a habit of personal safety, it becomes normal,” he said.
Your worst case scenario will likely never happen, but being prepared means you have ways to take care of yourself and those around you if it does happen, Pascal added.
In addition to implementing awareness of your surroundings, Pascal recommends making a plan for how you will respond in case of medical, fire, or violent emergencies.
It’s always important to look for two ways out of a building in case you’re blocked by danger or an obstacle, he said. And at home or in workplaces, he recommended taking note of doors that can be locked and things that can be used to make barricades.
Once you have the plan, practice it, he added. That bookcase might look like the perfect barricade in your head, but then it would be impossible to move in an emergency, Pascal said. And you want to make sure your escape routes don’t have locked doors that you can’t open.
But preparation can also take the form of training, and it doesn’t have to be long-term, intensive and situation-specific, Tunkel said.
Self-defense or active shooter training can give you knowledge and strategies to use quickly if they’re ever needed, Pascal said. But even more general training can help give you the necessary mental and physical responses in an emergency, Tunkel said.
Weightlifting and team sports can show you that you are physically capable of responding, he said. Yoga and meditation can train your breathing and brain to stay calm and make good decisions in a crisis, she said.
And in a dangerous situation, acting quickly and decisively is often the safest course, Pascal said.
It’s hard to be decisive when bullets are flying. Many victims of mass shootings reported that the events were confusing and that it was difficult to tell what was happening, Girgis said.
And if people don’t know what’s going on, they often rely on their instincts to make decisions about what to do next, which can be scary, Pascal said.
The human brain likes categories to keep things simple, so it will often relate new things to things we’ve been exposed to before, Stowell said. When a person hears a bang, he is likely to assume the sound is something familiar, like a firecracker, he added.
Instead, Pascal advised people, whether they think they hear balloons popping or gunshots, to stop, look around to gather as much information as possible about what’s going on around you, listen to see if you can learn anything. the sound and smell the air.
Because where there’s gunshots, there’s often gunpowder, Pascal said.
Once someone has gathered what information they can, it’s important to trust their perception of danger, Tunkel said.
Knowing there is danger triggers a fight-or-flight response, which humans have honed over thousands of years to respond to predators, Stowell said.
But when a person finds themselves in a dangerous situation that’s so far removed from anything they’ve ever experienced before, it’s not uncommon for them to freeze up, he added.
That’s where training of any kind comes into play. Even if it doesn’t teach you all the details of how to respond, it gives your brain a pool of knowledge to fall back on in a scary situation, Stowell said.
Fighting with a gun isn’t the only way to act when there’s a mass shooter, Pascal said.
The US Department of Homeland Security developed a protocol called “Run, Hide, Fight.”
“Run” refers to the first line of defense: getting away from a dangerous situation as quickly as possible, Pascal said. You can encourage others to run too, but don’t stay behind if they don’t want to go with you.
If fleeing isn’t possible, the next best option is to hide, making it harder for the perpetrator to get to you, he said.
If neither of those are an option, you can fight.
“You don’t have to be the biggest, strongest person in the room,” Pascal said. “You just have to have the mindset that no one is going to do this to me and I’m going home safe.”
Although most people are capable of responding to danger in some way, it’s important not to judge how much a bystander or victim acts, Tunkel said.
“What may be reasonable for one person in one situation is not reasonable for another person in another situation,” Pascal said.
No matter how well a person has been trained, mass shootings are “beyond the scope of anything we’ve ever had to experience in our day-to-day lives,” Stowell said. “There is no real expectation of a correct answer, despite the training.”